A panel of the House of Representatives is proposing to repeal the Evidence Act 2011 primarily to make evidence obtained during an illegal search on persons or their properties inadmissible in court.
Findings by our reporter on Sunday in Abuja indicated that the panel specifically proposed the repeal of Sections 14 and 15 of the Act to clearly provide that any evidence, tendered by security agencies or other authorities arising from an illegal search on persons or properties, be inadmissible.
These recommendations and several others were contained in the report of the ad hoc committee of the House, which investigated the October 2016 invasion of the homes of some Supreme Court justices by operatives of the DSS.
In Abuja, the DSS raided the residence of a Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sylvester Ngwuta.
Two judges of the Federal High Court, Justices Adeniyi Ademola, and Nnamdi Dimgba, also had their houses invaded by the DSS.
The raids were also carried in some states across the country, including Rivers and Kano states.
The operatives said they were acting on petitions alleging corrupt acts against the judicial officers.
Following the incident, which generated nationwide controversies, the House had set up the panel “to investigate all cases of invasion of property and arrests of persons for reasons outside the general duties of the DSS since May 29, 2015.”
The panel was chaired by a member of the All Progressives Congress from Kaduna State, Mr. Garba Datti-Muhammad.
In its report to the House, the committee noted that in other climes, including the US, any evidence obtained during an illegal search was not admissible.
A copy of the report, which our reporter obtained in Abuja on Sunday, read partly, “That there is a need to amend the National Security Agencies Act to more clearly state the powers of the Department of State Services to investigate corruption cases that affect national security.
“That there is a need to amend the National Security Agencies Act by incorporating the principles enshrined in the Instrument No. SSS I, to make for a more comprehensive statute as well as end speculation over the status of the Instrument in Nigeria’s hierarchy of laws.
“That there is a need to amend the Evidence Act 2011, by repealing sections 14 and 15 to make evidence obtained as a result of an illegal search inadmissible, as obtainable in other jurisdictions like the United States.”
The panel also stated that in performing their duties, DSS operatives should be able to “differentiate between cases of persons, who offer no threat both in terms of physical violence and capacity for escape, and therefore, not needing to be subjected to auxiliary measures (including arrest at night) on the one hand and those persons in respect of whom such measures are justifiable on the other hand.”
It added that this would minimise the nationwide apprehension and the “trauma to which such persons were subjected.”
In order for the repeal of the Evidence Act not to bring it in conflict with the 1999 Constitution, the panel called for the amendment to the relevant sections of the constitution to avoid a conflict.
The report explained further, “That the amendment to the NSA Act contained in recommendations (i) and (iii) can only be attained by the procedure for the alteration of the 1999 Constitution under Section 9(1) and (2).
“This is on account of the provisions of Section 315(5) of the 1999 Constitution, which provides that the NSA Act, amongst others, ‘shall not be altered or repealed except in accordance with the provisions of Section 9 (2) of this Constitution’.”
The panel also looked into a similar invasion of the Akwa Ibom State Government Lodge and recommended that the DSS should apologise to the state government.
The Attorney General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Mr. Abubakar Malami, had justified the action of the DSS while testifying before the panel on November 29 last year at the National Assembly.
Malami had also argued that though the allegations made against the judges were more of economic crimes than a threat to national security, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission did not have exclusive powers to investigate economic crimes.